Daily Archives: July 30, 2009

LINKAGE: Burqas, Gay Taxes, Fatshion, and More

In a guest column at Muslimah Media Watch, Alison McCarthy examines former Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown’s recent claims that Obama sequesters Secretary of State Hilary Clinton under an imaginary burqa.

Also from Muslimah Media Watch, Reuters found just 367 women in France in full veil; Farah at Nuseiba examines the mini-explosion of Australian op-eds on the burqa (using Roland Barthes’ Mythologies!); and Global Voices rounds up more opinions from the Interwebs about the notion of a ban.

8Asians lets us know about a short documentary video called Beautiful Sisters, written and directed by Connie Chung for an undergraduate filmmaking course, on the infamous eyelid surgeries that some consider “whitewashing” or “self-hatred” when Asian women (or men) undergo these procedures. (On this issue, I enjoy teach Katherine Zane’s nuanced discussion from the wonderful collection Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age, edited by Ella Shohat.)

Marc Jacobs jumps into the same-sex marriage fray with two limited-edition political t-shirts, both proclaiming, “I pay my taxes, I want my rights.” Between the floating dollar sign and American flag in one design, and stylish lesbian couple with equally stylish child in the other, there is too much “civic duty = taxes = access to rights” to untangle here.

Citing the work of Lila Abu-Lughod, a critique of Sarkozy’s proposed burqa ban dubs it “what-not-to-wear imperialism.”

Having recently discovered Fashion Projects (both a print journal and a blog), I was particularly impressed by this essay about George Amponsah and Cosima Spender’s documentary, The Importance of Being Elegant, which examines the Congolese subculture centered around the worship of clothes (kitende) known as la Société des ambianceurs et personnes élégantes (the Society of Revelers and Elegant People), or in short, la Sape. The documentary can be see on Vimeo.

The Los Angeles Times visits the Paris’ Musée de la Contrefaçon (Museum of Counterfeiting), “a fascinating five-room short course in the history of knock-offs, counterfeits and blatant infringements.”

Lesley at Fatshionista responds to the responses to Beth Ditto’s designer collaboration with British “plus-size” department store Evans.

Finally, reading through the abstracts for the recent academic conference FASHIONS: Business Practices in Historical Perspective turns out to be quite fascinating. There are lots of intriguing paper titles (Albert Churella, “The Clothes Make the Women: Skirts, Pants, and Railway Labor during World War II;” J. Malia McAndrew, “Feminized Diplomacy: Japanese Fashion Magazines and U.S. Censorship in Occupied Japan;” Shakila Yocob, “Branding Beauty: Indigenous Knowledge to the Forefront”) but especially timely is Efrat Tseeon’s “In Search of the ‘Ethics’ of Ethical Fashion,” which points out some significant blindspots in the rhetoric and practice.


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Teachable Moment with “Dad Jeans”

As we near the end of summer, we get busier and busier with all the work we had hoped to complete (manuscripts, essays, reviews) and can no longer forestall (course prep).

But toward the latter end, I was pleased to see all the fuss around Barack Obama’s jeans because it fits in so well with my lesson plans to teach Roland Barthes’ The Fashion System. I usually use “mom jeans” to illustrate the concepts of signified, signifier, sign, and sign system, which usually allows me to reference the infamous Saturday Night Live skit, The Housewives series on Bravo, the phantom polling figures of the “soccer mom” and subsequent “security mom,” and a particularly reprehensible article in the local college paper policing the sartorial decisions of mothers for the annual “Mom’s Weekend.” (The message being, “Students, don’t let your mother dress like sluts!”)

In doing so, I ask students to consider if a pair of high-waisted, tapered, pleated denim pants in an even, if faded, wash are ever “just” jeans or, as Barthes writes, if “every object is a sign.” Following from this, what ideas, values, stories, and so forth come to be associated with “mom jeans,” whether or not a person wearing them is a mother, or whether or not a particular mother wears them? And how these jeans might locate that person not just in the fashion system, but also discourses of race, class, geography, gender and sexuality?

Now the Washington Post’s fashion writer Robin Givhan lets loose her horror in a helpful demonstration of the semiotics of a pair of outdated jeans for the civic body: “Obama’s jeans sat relatively high on his waist and so some have referred to them as ‘mom jeans’ because they managed to make the lanky Obama look . . . well, not so lanky. But really, these are the jeans of middle-aged dads who have thrown in the towel and decided that when they get home from the office and take off their suit, all they care about is comfort. Because they cannot wear their pajamas in public, their 20-year-old jeans are a viable alternative. And by God, they still fit!” (To this “near-seditious exploration into the president’s casual-time wardrobe,” The Cut says, “Ouch.”)

CNN even covers the controversy, with E!’s celebrity stylist Robert Verdi asserting as the segment’s “expert,” “They are definitely mom jeans.”

Embedded video from CNN Video

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